Air Force Vet Describes His Experience & Life with Tinnitus
My name is Jean-Claude Wicks. I’m a former Staff Sergeant with the United States Air Force. I served from 1994 until 2003. I was a jet engine mechanic on crew chief F-116s. And that’s where I got my tinnitus, and I’ve been living with it ever since. In my particular case, versus some of the veterans coming back from the war today, for me it was more industrial noise. It was just a hazard of the job. You know when you are required to repair and test the jet engines and then go out and launch the aircraft, sometimes when you’re deployed 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, you are around aircraft that are generating anywhere from 110-160 plus decibels. It’s a lot of background noise. Now it’s not like we weren’t given protection. You know, they gave us ear plugs and we had ear muffs to wear and stuff like that but even those only knock out about 30, 40, 45 if you are lucky, decibels. And I spent a lot of time in the test bay, or what we call the hush house, testing the engines after they were newly rebuilt. We had a bioenvironmental person come in and do a sound survey to see how we were doing with that and we spiked their meter at 150 decibels. When we go out for after burner repairs they try to minimize how many minutes you spend out there but I can remember the longest amount of time that I’ve spent with the after burner running trying to find a leak or something like that was about three, three and a half minutes. So if you are looking at 150 decibels minus 45, that’s still 105.
I mean if you are in a war situation and an IED goes off and you survive because you are wearing body armor, that’s a wonderful thing but the problem is that your ears are, probably couldn’t have been protected so you are going to have noise-induced hearing loss and with it, you’re going to get tinnitus. And so the numbers that are coming back from Iraq, just from the soldiers of people with hearing issues, are very very high and the VA is trying to figure out how they are going to deal with that right now.
I think initially, I dealt with it like any other good little soldier would, you know, you just ruck up and move on. You find a way to cope with it, however you manage to cope with it, you find a way to cope with it. I started sleeping with the TV on, or I would run a fan – anything to make it so that there was just enough noise to drown out the ring. In my particular case, it’s more of like a really high pitched wine, all the time – doesn’t matter, and the quieter the environment around me, the louder it is. So, I think pretty much I’ve learned to either keep myself busy enough to keep it off my mind or generate some kind of noise in the background. Like in my office where I work now, I’ve got a water fountain on my desk. Just something for enough white noise to let it drown out the ring.